Carson and Barnes Circus, in the 1960s

Friday, May 07, 2010

Colossal Catch Up: Feld To Big Apple Rescue ... U of Kent Offers BA Degree in Circus ... Cirque du Soleil Lands Michael Jackson

Update correcton, from the Washington Post, May 10:
"A May 3 story about Feld Entertainment Chairman Kenneth Feld said Feld wrote a check to cover the Big Apple Circus's deficit caused by a drop in donations in the wake of the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme scandal. Feld wrote a check to cover a portion of the deficit, not the entire circus shortfall."

Back from China, what first to address? I feel slightly disoriented, jet lag or culture shock, herewith challenged by a slew of media reports advanced my way by Don Covington. Most interesting of all is a Washington Post profile, predictable, of Ringling boss Kenneth Feld, cold cold cold, who last year asked somebody at Big Apple Circus how much in debt they were, and then, being given a figure, wrote out a check for the exact amount. [wrong, see above] Warm warm warm. Gosh, maybe the guy has a heart after all, or, oops, just an angle to look ever so giving? ... How embarrassed and humbled must the Paul Binder family be, taking money from a circus very much unlike the sort it has long advocated?

Who is Feld, we keep asking? Really, not a mystery at all. Let's put it this way: James A. Bailey on ice. The Post story covers the usual highlights, downplaying the darker side of one very sinister operator. He is a numbers cruncher, a shrewd marketing man able to placate changing audience tastes, though, curiously, Dominique Jando, who if nothing else knows how to get quoted, is quoted as suggesting that Mr. Feld, at "a critical point," is a risk of losing his audience base. "They have tried to create something with a lot of video effects ... it's not the Ringling that audiences expect to see." Oh, really? Last I checked, they were holding their own, and the video effects were out the tent. The Post story does not disclose actual circus attendance numbers other than to indicate, overall, how fabulously successful Feld Entertainment is. All shows undergo changes; Ringling, say what you will, has been forced to shakeup up the format for the very reason that the American public in fact has come to expect something different, blame or thank Cirque du Soleil and the back-to-one-ring movement of recent years, championed, by among others, Jando's one-time employer, Big Apple Circus ... Feld's obsession for elephant acts remains a little puzzling to me. But this guy takes in about 200 of his shows a year, so he must be viably in contact with audience reactions to his product, must knowing something we don't.

Elsewhere, in uppity academic circles, ever ready to save the big top from the big top, the community and college-based circus schools continue to spring up, each singing a new more intellectual kind of circus that can really impart big meaningful ideas and satisfy the younger generations seeking a new way out of old big tops into a better day. University of Kent, in England, now offering a BA degree in circus art! ... Listen here and take redemptive hope: "Once relegated to the tent of tigers and tricks, rise of Cirque du Soleil has spurred increased mainstream popularity." Says Lella Jones, producer for Roundhouse CircusFest in London, "There's a move away from traditional circus to become more challenging and sophisticated" Says I, no, no no, not on a populist level. Make all the references to Cirque you wish, but that company draws from some of the best circus artists in the world who perform, pardon my dropping that dirty word, World, "tricks." Incredible tricks, yes, tricks under gorgeous tents of wonder ... More schools popping up in the U.S., but I continue waiting to see graduates appear in our rings of commerce. I continue thrilling to talent from places like Russia and China and Peru, from everywhere but the USofA.

Big Top Bits: Circo Hermanos Caballero kicked out of Baldwin Park in So Cal, owing to contract disputes with property owner. Something to do with the cost of an insurance policy. These Mexican troupes leave a lot to be desired. ... Cirque's new touring unit, Totem, drawing a rave from the hometown Montreal Gazette, claiming that with CDS, "there's no such a thing as a bad circus." Well, not exactly. BTW: CDS licensed to produce a series of shows built upon, around and inside the Michael Jackson persona and song catalog. Will there be cookies and warm milk kid acrobats, me wonders? I stand amazed, wondering when this mighty Montreal monster will come tumbling down. Only because at some point, the public has to tire of its recurring styles, or is Guy Laliberte really that clever at reinventing himself over and over again? His Banana Shpeel, once nearly stranded in Chicago, finally, as of this moment, ready, really ready this time to face the NY critics at the Beacon on May 19 .... Back to the Feld of Felds, In the Post story, just to be madly fair, let's quote some stats: "Feld Entertainment these days tours 67 countries, tallying more than 5,000 performances a year. Its annual audience exceeds 30 million, generating nearly $900 million in revenue. On a big weekend, the far-flung empire is entertaining nearly 1 million patrons from Denmark to Greece to Wheeling. W. Va." One million? I did some number crunching of my own. Something about this claim, wrapped in formal journalism, makes me doubt the entire story. I've learned not to be a sucker for a good press kit, kids.

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